(SKY NEWS) — He’s arguably the greatest footballer to ever play the game but fans shouldn’t call Lionel Messi “God”, according to the Pope.
The Pontiff says using the term to describe the Barcelona star is theoretically “sacrilege” and has warned supporters against doing it.
Asked about the subject on Spanish television channel La Sexta, Pope Francis said: “In theory, it is sacrilege. It shouldn’t be said. I do not believe it.”
When presenter Jordi Evole suggested he did believe Messi was God, Pope Francis replied with a chuckle: “I don’t.
“People could call him God, just as they might say ‘I adore you’, but only God can be worshipped.
“[Saying] ‘He’s a god with the ball on the pitch’ is a popular way to express yourself.
“He’s great to watch – but he’s not God.”
Pope Francis is known to be a football fan and is a club member of Buenos Aires side San Lorenzo.
He previously met Messi – a fellow Argentinian – in 2013 and is reported to have hailed him as football’s greatest ever player, ahead of Pele, Diego Maradona and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barcelona fans often call Messi “D10S” – a combination of the Spanish word for God, “dios” – with the number 10 on his shirt.
With five Ballon d’Or awards to his name, the 31-year-old has spent his entire his professional career at Barcelona, where he has won nine league titles, six Copa del Rey honours and four UEFA Champions League winner’s medals.
He also inspired Barcelona to an historic treble-winning season on two occasions, securing the league, cup and Champions League in 2008/09 and 2014/2015.
However, Messi is yet to play in a World Cup-winning side for his native Argentina.